September 9, 2014
A great new talent is unearthed. Very definitely one to watch!
One of the greatest joys of writing about food, and judging and consulting on chocolate, is witnessing passion and creativity. I recently came back from Paris, where I spent a day in the inner sanctum of La Maison du Chocolat, one to one with Head Chef Nicolas Cloiseau, tasting recipes, interviewing him, and gaining stunning insight into that globally successful fine chocolate company. Nicolas Cloiseau is a big deal, it was a privilege. (More of which on him in a future post). But it is equally special finding someone unknown, discovering talent, bearing witness to the birth of something very exciting indeed.
Patricia Hodgkinson is such a find. She set up her chocolate label in 2011, after a career as a chef and patissier in some top kitchens. Her first job after training came about in a way typical of Patricia’s energy and chutzpah. At the end of her Le Cordon Bleu training she celebrated graduation with a meal at Gordon Ramsey’s Royal Hospital Road restaurant. This was in 2000 prior to the major TV career, and Gordon was there cooking. At the end of the meal, he came and did a visit around the room, and talked to Patricia, asking what she had thought of the meal and what she was celebrating. She told him, and promptly asked for a job. He told her to turn up the following day at 7am, not expecting her to do so. However she was there, in her whites and unrecognisable from the glamorous dinner guest of the previous night. Despite the evident expectation that she wouldn’t be able to cut it in what was a dominantly male kitchen, she worked her way through until 11.30 that night and was subsequently offered a job. Patricia still remembers all that she worked on that day; peas, crayfish, tomatoes. She also remembers the intensity, and falling in love with the creation of food at that level.
After a stint with Gordon she was involved in launching his restaurant at the Connaught under Angela Hartnett. Patricia stayed with Hartnett for a couple of years, before relocating for six years to Switzerland. Working as a pastry chef in Zurich at the highest level, she gained experience in chocolate, and started to fall more deeply under its spell. She also started to work with Felchlin couverture, a brand she still uses for some of her work today.
When she returned to the UK in 2009, to Tunbridge Wells in Kent, she set the wheels in motion to specialise in chocolate, and in September 2011 she began in earnest. I first met Patricia last year, while doing some research for a local business, and found her to be instantly apart from the norm. I was really excited by her knowledge, experience, and evident passion for excellence. I was also impressed by her openness and curiosity about the chocolate work I was doing. Unfortunately being open to others’ knowledge is too rare a characteristic. She creates recipes with sensitivity and the finest ingredients, and I was full of anticipation at the sound of her recipes before I tried them. When I did I was not disappointed.
To find out more, and because she let me, I spent the day in Patricia’s workshop, having a go at making a chocolate or two. We made a batch of a passion-fruit and chia-seed ganache that she developed this summer. And we had a go at creating a new recipe with some fantastic pistachios from Pariani in Italy, a brand she had discovered through talking to me about ingredients.
And what a happy day we spent! It passed in a rapid blur, of talking chocolate, and food in general, and of mixing, stirring, tempering and tasting. The crux of what I learnt is that Patricia is a calm focused creative, whose eye for detail is tremendous. Technically she has earned her stripes, and the whole seems very natural, the results elegant. She puts recipes together with a delicate touch, and favours well balanced gentle combinations of flavours that are easy to like. Having said that, she is open-minded and experimental in her choices and her range of flavours, as you will see below in our tasting. This is in happy contrast to some young chefs whose aim is to innovate for its own sake, with little focus on whether the result is a nice thing to eat. Not so here.
At present Patricia is starting to sell through a few outlets, and a strength is that she is a born collaborator, developing great relationships with these partners, often creating bespoke products. For example Juliet’s in Tunbridge Wells has hot chocolate made especially for them, in chilli, raspberry and orange, and a plain Grand Cru. The Chapel, an extremely smart hairdressing chain with branches in London, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, have unique mini chocolate bars to go with their tea or coffee. With changing seasonal flavours, visitors to the salon can choose what they are in the mood for.
At the end of my day I emerged into the real world clutching a precious box of chocolates. Evidence of my day, our creations, and some other things Patricia wanted me to taste. I wasn’t going to argue with that! I’ve made some tasting notes, so you can have a little greater insight into I Wanna Cocoa chocolates:
Pistachio & milk chocolate ganache. “Cor!” is quite genuinely what emerged from me on first tasting this new recipe we had created. An easy thing to like, with caramel-rich Felchlin 38% Bolivian milk chocolate, and the nutty notes of superb Bronte pistachios rounding it out and adding depth. This was a first experiment, and in my opinion a second batch could have a higher quantity of the pistachio to create more of an equal billing between the nuts and the chocolate. We tasted the ganache in process, and it was perfect, but once the pure chocolate outer was added to the mix the pistachio was a little too subtle for me. But a yummy thing nonetheless. Cor indeed.
The Passionfruit and Chia seed white chocolate ganache in Arriba 72% dark was wholly successful. A recipe Patricia has already worked on, this is a lovely balance of the bright fruit, mellowed but not over-sweetened by white chocolate, complemented by the deep fruity shell. The chia seeds work visually like the seeds in the original fruit, and add a nice earthy back-note and texture.
Medjool date, Condensed Milk and Rose in dark chocolate. A very gentle and soft centre, starting with a perfectly judged hint of rose, rounded out by the comforting sweetness of both date and condensed milk, and given depth and edge by a cocoa rich dark chocolate shell.
Pomegranate Caramel is a delicious thing. A dash of vodka and a hint of lemon zest add to a gorgeously fluid caramel to create a delicate, fruity affair. The light zingy caramel is well balanced by a crisp dark shell. I loved this and could readily have eaten a boxful.
Dark Ganache with English Mustard and Honey. This was a total surprise to me, mustard is not an ingredient I expected to find in a chocolate. Of course we know that spice, and in particular the warmth of chilli can work brilliantly with chocolate. But I wasn’t expecting to like this. I was prepared to put it down to the chefs need to experiment and shake things up a little. It was the surprise hit of the day. I gorgeous dense truffley texture started to reveal a little heat once it began to melt in my mouth. The taste is unmistakeably English Mustard, no tentative ‘hint’, but properly identifiable. It is however not at all overplayed, never overtaking the chocolate, and combining beautifully with it, assisted by a gentle note of honey, to create something warm with a molasses-like depth of edgy flavour. Deep, warm, velvety tasting chocolate.
So, in conclusion, my inkling that I had found hint of promise exposed a full explosion of talent and excitement. I will be watching as the future of this brilliant new talent unfolds. Thank you Trish for a fabulous day, glorious chocolates, and teaching me a trick or two.